A young family are moving into a new house, in fact the old house that the mother, Dora (Daria Nicolodi) shared with her previous husband, who, it is believed, has committed suicide while out at sea in his boat. Their son Marco (David Colin Jr) is exploring the new surroundings, asking his stepfather, Bruno (John Steiner) whether they will stay there forever, when he is mysteriously drawn to the cellar. Upstairs, Dora is unpacking and dusting when she discovers the ornament of a large, white hand hidden in the cushions of the sofa. Dora thinks she has gotten over the episode which saw her husband die and herself suffer a nervous breakdown, but something in the house just won't let her rest - and it's influencing her son...
Shock was written by Francesco Barbieri, Paolo Brigenti, Dardano Sacchetti and director Mario Bava's son Lamberto Bava, seeing him follow in his father's footsteps as he also served as assistant director. In some places it was known as a sequel to Exorcist rip-off Beyond the Door, but it's not a true follow-up at all, and in some ways resembles a cross between The Bad Seed and Repulsion rather than featuring any Linda Blair-style head spinning and pea soup vomiting, not to mention the lack of a spiritual element. At its heart is a performance of barely bottled up hysteria from Nicolodi as the housewife whose personal demons are mixed with a real supernatural threat.
The night they move in, we are aware of little Marco's dangerous side when he sits up in bed growling "Pigs! Pigs! Pigs!" as his mother and stepfather make love in the living room below. If you're still in doubt that there's trouble afoot, once pilot Bruno is away on business, the nervous Marco asks to sleep in his mother's bed, and once again awakes, only to have one of his hands transformed into a ragged adult claw which strokes at his mother's face (adding an unpleasant insinuation of incest which is dropped soon after). As if you haven't guessed by now, and you'd have to be as slow on the uptake as the characters if you haven't, Marco is being possessed by his dead father.
However, it's not as simple as that, as there's method in the madness. Marco continues to behave strangely, leading his mother to grow convinced that there are otherworldly goings-on, er, going on. Showing a fixation on hands Bava has Dora menaced by visions of dead ones, has her own burned and cut, and adds representations of hands wherever he sees fit. The film adopts an approach resembling a really good (or bad) nightmare, throwing in images both ridiculous and genuinely chilling. For the silly angle we see Marco turning to voodoo to try and bring down Bruno's aeroplane with the use of a garden swing and a cut out photograph, or the sight of a laughing piano which is more daft than scary.
Alternatively, Dora's nightmares, which she finds increasingly difficult to wake up from, contain many memorable scenes. In one, she witnesses her wardrobe being dragged across the floor by forces unseen to block the bedroom door - then that dead hand appears pushing its way through the gap. When she tries to escape through the window it has been bricked up, as one of the walls in the cellar has. While Bava concentrates on these surreal episodes Shock is at its strongest, but the story, predictable and uninspired, lets it down. Fortunately, Nicolodi's panicky histrionics keep the excitement level high: never mind the reassurances of Bruno or her psychiatrist, we know that she's not making it up. What we don't know is the reason for the haunting, although you probably have a good idea. The film may be patchy, but when it's at its best it's very effective indeed, with one brilliant shot standing out. Music by Walter Martino.
Italian director/writer/cinematographer and one of the few Italian genre film-makers who influenced, rather than imitated. Worked as a cinematographer until the late 1950s, during which time he gained a reputation as a hugely talented director of photography, particularly in the use of optical effects.
Bava made his feature debut in 1960 with Black Sunday/The Mask of Satan, a richly-shot black and white Gothic gem. From then on Bava worked in various genres – spaghetti western, sci-fi, action, peplum, sex – but it was in the horror genre that Bava made his legacy. His sumptuously filmed, tightly plotted giallo thrillers (Blood and Black Lace, Hatchet for the Honeymoon, Bay of Blood) and supernatural horrors (Lisa and the Devil, Baron Blood, Kill, Baby...Kill!) influenced an entire generation of Italian film-makers (and beyond) – never had horror looked so good. Bava’s penultimate picture was the harrowing thriller Rabid Dogs, while his last film, Shock, was one his very scariest. Died of a heart attack in 1980.